Multipurpose Tankers Share Spotlight with Traditional Water Haulers

Alan M. Petrillo

Many fire departments around the country are feeling the dual pinch of shrinking budgets and a decline in staffing. Those difficulties are causing departments that have the added headache of a lack of hydrants in their coverage area to rethink the traditional tanker concept and consider purchasing multiuse vehicles, particularly pumper-tanker combinations.

Trend Reaches Tankers

Darryl Rhyne, general manager of Sutphen East, believes multiuse vehicles are the wave of the future and that wave is now being felt in the tanker market. “There absolutely is a trend toward multiuse pumper-tankers,” Rhyne says, “because they address a lot of the staffing issues fire departments have, especially in the volunteer ranks.”

Rhyne says Sutphen East (the division of Sutphen Corp. that builds tankers and pumpers) hasn’t built a tanker without a pump on it for some time. “For most departments, the primary function is to operate the vehicle as a tanker and still have the ability to set up on a scene and operate as a pumper if necessary,” he says.

However, he notes, the fire industry works in spurts. “We’re very busy with both traditional tankers and pumper-tankers right now, but six months from now it could be completely different,” Rhyne observes. “The advantage to replacing a traditional tanker with a pumper-tanker is that [departments] usually gain a lot more compartment space.”

Sutphen East is building more 3,000-gallon tankers than 2,000-gallon models, he adds, by about a three-to-one margin. And the company is seeing some interesting dump arrangements on the tankers it is building. “On a tanker we built for a Pennsylvania fire department, we put on a tridump-a manifolded dump on the back with three dump valves so the truck could dump into multiple portable tanks at the same time,” Rhyne says. “A lot of departments want a swivel dump on the back with controls in the cab to allow dumping to the sides or rear, and almost everyone wants an electric Zico drop tank rack.”

Safety innovations have also been worked into today’s tankers and pumper-tankers, Rhyne points out. He says 90 percent of the tankers Sutphen East builds have backup camera systems with audio feed on them, many have large directional stick arrows on the back, and most have scene lighting on at least three sides of the vehicle.

Tank and Pump Size Variety

Donley Frederickson, national sales manager for Rosenbauer, says his company has had a lot of interest in pumper-tanker models, especially its Maverick-a short-wheelbase vehicle that can carry 1,000 to 1,800 gallons of water and a 1,250- or 1,500-gallon-per-minute (gpm) power takeoff (PTO) pump. “It’s available in four-wheel drive, which is important to departments covering rural or urban interface areas,” Frederickson says. “And, it has full compartmentation and a Rosenbauer swivel dump at the rear and can seat three in the two-door model.”

(1) KME built this tandem axle pumper-tanker for West Earl Fire Company in Brownstown, Pennsylvania.
(1) KME built this tandem axle pumper-tanker for West Earl Fire Company in Brownstown, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

Frederickson notes that the Rosenbauer tankers are split about 50/50, with half of those being built in the 1,800- to 2,000-gallon tank range and the balance between 2,500 and 3,000 gallons. Ultimately, it’s the customers’ needs that dictate what Rosenbauer builds for them, he adds. “We try to stay around the 2,500-gallon size because of the weight involved on a typical wheelbase of 150 inches,” Frederickson says. “But, we’ve even built top-mount pumper tankers with big pumps and 2,000-gallon water tanks.”

At Midwest Fire, owner Scott Schneekloth says that although the economy has pushed some fire departments toward purchasing pumper-tankers, the bulk of his company’s business continues to be traditional tanker models but with larger pumps on them. “We sell three to one, 3,000-gallon-capacity tankers to 2,000-gallon-capacity versions,” Schneekloth says. “But, the difference is that 20 years ago it was mostly tenders (tankers) with engine-driven small pumps on them. Today, only a small number of tankers go out the door with small portable pumps. Mostly the tankers are carrying 750-gpm or larger pumps.”

Midwest Fire builds tankers from 1,500- to 3,000-gallon capacities and will put pumps from 750 to 2,000 gpm on them, Schneekloth points out. “For most departments, they are usually transporting water first and using the pump as a backup if it’s needed,” he says. “But, we have noticed some departments using pumper-tankers as primary pumpers. It’s very rare to see a truck go out of here that’s just a tender-almost all of them have some kind of pump on them.”

Jeff Morris, president of Alexis, estimates that pumper-tankers now account for about 25 percent of his company’s tanker business. “Most departments are looking for a tanker with a pump rated at 750 gpm,” Morris notes. “To make it a pumper-tanker, you’d have to carry more equipment, have a certain size hosebed, and carry a full complement of ladders. In those big pumper-tankers, we’re seeing 1,500-gpm pumps and water tanks of either 2,000 or 3,000 gallons.”

(2) A Midwest Fire model PT2 3,000-gallon pumper-tanker tests its driver's side dump valve.
(2) A Midwest Fire model PT2 3,000-gallon pumper-tanker tests its driver’s side dump valve. (Photo courtesy of Midwest Fire.)

Morris says Alexis also has been building a number of smaller tankers in the 2,000-gallon water tank range, carrying a 500- or 750-gpm pump and a small hosebed. “We can put the pump module under the tank or in front of it, depending on the fire department’s choice,” Morris says. “We’re able to give them a single-axle truck with a short wheelbase, which they like because of the tight maneuverability it gives them.”

But, with the economy still in the doldrums, Morris believes that most fire departments stay with what they know best. “Most of them are looking for tried and true tankers,” he says. “They want their bread-and-butter apparatus instead of the bigger pumper-tankers that cost a lot more money.”

Not an Urban Trend

Joe (JR) Lee II, vice president of U.S. Tanker, believes the trend toward multiuse vehicles is strongest in rural and suburban departments with large undeveloped areas to cover. “About 80 percent of the fire industry is still rural and volunteer,” Lee says, “With fewer volunteers these days, it can be very difficult for a department to get multiple apparatus to a fire scene, so they want to have the best apparatus there from the start.”

U.S. Tanker builds about 60 tankers a year, both elliptical and square design, and 95 percent of them have a rated pump on them, Lee notes. The elliptical is the traditional curved tanker, while the square design has sides like a traditional pumper, a hosebed, and ladders. “The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program is driving a lot of tanker activity,” Lee says. “But, the grant requires that the tanker can’t have a pump larger than 750-gpm on it.”

He notes that half of the pumps U.S. Tanker puts on its vehicles are 1,250-gpm models, and that pumper-tankers allow more flexibility in fighting fires. “I believe a lot of departments still are trying to use their tanker as a straight tanker-but with a pump on it. If they are first on the scene, they can fight the fire, even though the vehicle’s main purpose is to transport water,” Lee says. “Some departments use them as backup pumpers and as mutual-aid pumpers, as well as being a nurse vehicle at a portable water source or a supply vehicle.”

Approximately 75 percent of the tankers U.S. Tanker builds are 3,000-gallon versions, 20 percent are 2,000-gallon models, and the balance are either 1,800- or 4,000-gallon units, almost all of them on tandem axles, Lee says.

(3) Rosenbauer built a 3,000-gallon pumper-tanker for the Freeport (IL) Fire Department that includes crew space in the cab and attack line crosslays
(3) Rosenbauer built a 3,000-gallon pumper-tanker for the Freeport (IL) Fire Department that includes crew space in the cab and attack line crosslays. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

Region by Region

Jason Witmier, pumper-tanker product manager for KME, says that a 1,250-gpm pump is typical on a pumper-tanker, with a single-axle model carrying up to a 2,000-gallon water tank. “If the department is carrying a lot of equipment and hose on its vehicle, the tank might be limited to 1,800 gallons because of the overall weight,” he says. “Those departments that aren’t concerned about going to a tandem axle usually choose a 3,000-gallon water tank.”

In some regions of the country, fire departments are asking for more compartment space on their tankers, Witmier points out, especially those opting for pumper-tankers. And, departments are taking their portable water tanks out of compartments and placing them elsewhere-in a tunnel inside the water tank, on an overhead hydraulic rack, or in the hosebed, he adds. “The tank tunnel usually is the first choice because it’s less costly than an overhead rack, and most departments don’t put the portable tank in the hosebed because it can weigh 150 to 175 pounds and you don’t really want to pull that down off a hosebed,” Witmier says. “On the East Coast we see a lot more pumper-tankers, about 60 to 70 percent,” he says. “In the Midwest, only 30 to 40 percent are pumper-tankers, and the rest are straight tankers.”

Needs Dictate Tanker Type

Witmier believes that how a fire department operates dictates whether a pumper-tanker is an advantage for it. “In a small department with limited staffing, a pumper-tanker can work well,” Witmier says, “but if it is using it as a front line pumper, it then loses the ability to shuttle water with it.”

Tangi Rouse, manager of contract administration at E-ONE, says that each customer has specific needs when it comes to tankers, with the pumper-tanker filling a specific role. “Some departments only want the tanker to haul water; others will use the tanker to store equipment and water; while still others will use the apparatus to haul water, store equipment, and fight fires,” Rouse says.

Those customers who choose to purchase traditional tankers, Rouse points out, typically want the apparatus to store rarely used equipment since the tanker would be used most often to shuttle water and the equipment on the truck might be miles away from the fire scene at a fill site. Conversely, she says, “Pumper-tankers are required to carry large amounts of water and equipment while also being capable of dumping water quickly in a situation where there might not be a readily available water source.”

(4) U.S. Tanker built this 3,000-gallon pumper-tanker on a tandem axle commercial chassis for the Ashippun (WI) Fire Department.
(4) U.S. Tanker built this 3,000-gallon pumper-tanker on a tandem axle commercial chassis for the Ashippun (WI) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Tanker.)

Dan White, Classic Series product manager for Crimson Fire, has seen his customer base trending toward carrying lots of water. “They’re moving back toward big water and big trucks with high left- and low right-side compartments,” White says. “Today, the majority of our customers are buying larger trucks and carrying larger amounts of equipment instead of basic trucks that are simple water haulers.”

White points out that many of the pumper-tankers Crimson Fire has built carry 1,250-gpm pumps, well above the 500- to 750-gpm pumps that earlier-built tankers carried. More compartmentation and a 2,000-gallon tank can still fit on a single axle, he adds, but all of Crimson’s 3,000-gallon tankers are on tandem axles. “Tankers are the last apparatus class out there where you can combine multifunctionality,” White says. “We’ve seen quints on the aerial side and rescue-pumpers on the pumper and rescue side, so this is a logical extension of those trends.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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